De-stigmatizing HPV Prevention
How do I know if I have HPV?
As HPV is usually asymptomatic, most people will never know they have it. If the HPV does not go away on its own, it can cause changes in the cervix cells which will usually show up on your Pap test. If you have the strain of the virus that causes genital warts you or someone else may notice small, flat or rounded bumps on, around or inside your sex organs.
What are the risk factors for HPV?
- Early onset of sexual activity
- Having multiple sexual partners over the course of your lifetime
- Having partners who have had multiple partners over their lifetime.
Women can substantially lower their risk of exposure to HPV by abstaining from initial sexual contact for as long as possible and remaining in a monogamous relationship. Additionally, avoiding tobacco products will reduce the likelihood that an HPV infection will develop into cancer. Women can also lower their risk by having a Pap smear on a regular basis – at least once every two years to three years (or more frequently if recommended by a doctor) and getting vaccinated.
What is the HPV vaccine?
There are over 100 strains of HPV. The two vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) are designed to protect against the two types of HPV that can cause 70% of the cases of cervical cancer. They do not protect you against all other types, so you will still need to have a Pap test every two years from whenever you become sexually active or turn 21. Your doctor will let you know if you need to have more frequent Pap smears. Gardasil also offers protection against the two strains of HPV that cause 90% of all cases of genital warts. Neither vaccine offers protection against other sexually transmitted infections.
Who should get the vaccine?
Gardasil is approved for use in females and males between the ages of 9 and 26. Cervarix is approved for girls and women between the ages of 10 and 25. To get the full protection offered by the vaccines it should be administered before one engages in any intimate sexual contact.
What if I have already experienced intimate sexual contact?
If you have already had sexual contact you may have been exposed to one of the four strains of the virus that the vaccine protects against. Therefore you may not have the full protective benefit of the vaccine. However, it is recommended that if you are 26 years of age or younger, you should still take the Gardasil vaccine as it is unlikely that you will have been infected with all four strains of the virus that the vaccine offers protection against and so will still have some protection.
How is the vaccine given?
You will need three injections over a period of six months to get the best protection. A doctor or nurse will give you the injection in your upper arm or thigh. You will receive the 2nd injection two months after the first one and the 3rd injection six months after the first one. It is important that the doctor or nurse giving you the injection know about any allergies or medical conditions you may suffer from. In August of 2009 the Cancer Society, in partnership with HSA, launched a program to distribute free vaccinations to girls aged 11-17 at the Public Health Department in the Cayman Islands Hospital. This vaccine is also available at some paediatricians, gynaecologists and general practitioners; who have partnered with the Cancer Society to make the price more reasonable and easily accessible to people. Physicians in this initiative are: Dr. Abraham, Dr Addleson, Dr. Cridland, Dr. Christofferson, Dr. El-Madany, Dr. Charles, Dr. Hobday, Dr. Meggs, Dr. Pomares, Dr. Richmond-Peck, Dr. Richens, Dr. Richter, Dr. Smith, Dr. Vivek and Dr. Sook Yin. For more information on the Cancer Society’s HPV programme, gynaecological cancers or on activities year round call 949-7618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.